WASHINGTON

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said Tuesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin can avoid a war of choice after Moscow ordered troops to move into eastern Ukraine.

Austin said the US will continue to work closely with Kyiv before heading to a meeting with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba at the Pentagon.

“Russia’s latest invasion is threatening the peace and security and prosperity of Ukraine and transatlantic community,” said Austin. “Mr. Putin can still avoid a full-blown, tragic war of choice.”

Kuleba is slated to meet later with Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

After a speech late Monday saying Russia would recognize as independent the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine, Putin announced that Moscow would send troops to those areas to “maintain peace.”

The announcements drew widespread global condemnation as violations of the UN Charter and international law, with Western countries vowing to impose harsh new sanctions.

In 2014, after invading Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, Moscow began to support separatist forces in eastern Ukraine against the central government — a policy it has maintained for the past seven years. The conflict has taken more than 13,000 lives, according to the UN.

Since the 2014 Russian invasion of Crimea, Turkic Tatars have reported persecution by Russian authorities.

The latest moves follow Russia amassing more than 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders, with Western countries saying the buildup is the prelude to an invasion, a charge Russia denies.

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